Teachers were “devastated” after a Department for Education “blind spot” resulted in thousands of students missing out on exam grades in “community languages” last year – and the same could happen this year, a new report reveals.
The Silenced Voices report, by think tank Global Future, highlights how community languages such as Bengali, Gujarati, Polish, Greek and Turkish are often taught in Saturday schools or “supplementary schools” where teachers are not recognised by exam regulator Ofqual as being qualified to award teacher-assessed grades.
Report author Rowenna Davis said: “Thousands of students worked for years to get these grades in Saturday schools and evenings, but they were never given a grade after they were unilaterally withdrawn from exams. Students and teachers of community languages were devastated”.
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She added: “Thousands of students are at risk [again] of losing any chance of achieving the qualifications for which they have studied because of a government 'blind spot' on community languages.”
GCSEs and A levels: Students denied grades in 'community languages'
Campaigners at the National Resource Centre for Supplementary Education (NRCSE) are now calling on ministers to make an emergency grant of £3 million to allow candidates to sit exams.
Pascale Vassie, executive directive of NRCSE, says in the report: “The massive fall in community language entries in 2020 has exposed not only the government’s lack of respect for community languages but the outright discrimination against community-led learning.
“This is shameful and, at a time when we need to pull together to ensure the country recovers after 12 months of disrupted education, massively damaging to our children’s future.”
Figures shows that the number of A-level grades awarded in community languages dropped 41 per cent last year, while the number of GCSE grades being awarded fell by 28 per cent.
The report states that, in rare cases, mainstream schools felt confident about submitting predicted grades on behalf of supplementary schools where they shared a student, even if they had not taught them this subject directly.
However, in many cases mainstream schools withdrew or refused to enter students for subjects they did not learn in school – and the same thing is happening this year, says the report.
Nuriye Mertcan, vice-principal at Duke’s Aldridge Academy in Tottenham, North London, and chair of the Turkish Language, Culture and Education Consortium, said: “It felt like a kick in the teeth. We are working hard. If you happened to come from a family that spoke German or French, you would still get your grade in most cases, but our children couldn’t. We were not spoken to by government.
"There was no effort to reach out. I think we are looked at with mistrust. Other languages seem to be valued more – it’s a form of institutionalised bias.”
A DfE spokesperson said: “We are working with the sector to ensure there are enough centres available to support private candidates, such as those taking community languages, at a similar cost to a normal year. Further information, including a list of centres able to take private candidates will be published shortly.
“Private candidates should be assessed on a range of evidence, which could include evidence from a school or college. Ofqual’s draft guidance to heads of centre provides initial guidance on when evidence from another centre or established educational provider might be used, with further guidance to come from exam boards.”
An Ofqual spokesperson said: “Many students taking qualifications in community languages will be private candidates because the centres that teach community languages are often not mainstream schools or colleges.
"This year we have taken decisions that should allow all private candidates to receive a grade in summer 2021, by working with a centre with which they already have a relationship or by working with a new centre that is willing to accept new candidates for this purpose. Exam boards will be publishing a list of centres willing to take on private candidates for particular subject in due course.
“Last year the autumn exam series was put in place to give those candidates who were unable to get a grade in the summer the opportunity to take an exam."